Video: Ronan O'Gara receives the Freedom of Cork

Video: Ronan O'Gara receives the Freedom of Cork
Freedom of the City ceremony for former Cork Constitution , UCC, Presentation Brothers College, Munster, Ireland and British and Irish Lions rugby player Ronan O'Gara at City Hall, Cork. Pic; Larry Cummins.

A 'humbled and honoured' Ronan O'Gara yesterday joined an illustrious list in being awarded the freedom of Cork city.

The Munster and Ireland rugby legend paid tribute to his family, teammates and coaches in accepting the honour, claiming that he would have gotten nowhere without their support.

Hundreds turned out to see O'Gara receive the accolade, which dates back to the fourteenth century and is the highest civic honour the city can bestow on a citizen.

Previous recipients include the likes of Roy Keane and Sonia O'Sullivan, both of whom were described as 'heroes' by O'Gara.

The likes of John F Kennedy, Mary McAleese and Michael Flatley have also received the honour.

O'Gara joins the list in recognition of his achievements on and off the field, including becoming Ireland's record points scorer.

He also played for Munster on 240 occasions across a glittering career which saw him win two Heineken cups, three Celtic leagues and the 2009 Six Nations.

Born in San Diego, he now coaches at Racing 92 in Paris, having represented Presentation Brothers College, Cork Con, UCC, Munster, Ireland and the Lions over the duration of his career.

O'Gara flew in from France especially for the occasion, joined by his wife Jessica, their five children, Rua, Molly, JJ, Zac and Max.

Also among the hundreds in attendance were former Ireland and Lions captain Donal Lenihan, former Cork GAA coach Billy Morgan. retired Irish rugby international Tommy Kiernan, comedian Mario Rosenstock and a host of local and national politicians.

Ronan O'Gara's wife Jessica with their children: twins Rua and Molly (seven), JJ (six), Zac (three) and Max (two). and Micheal Martin TD at his conferring of the Freedom of the City ib Cork City Hall. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Ronan O'Gara's wife Jessica with their children: twins Rua and Molly (seven), JJ (six), Zac (three) and Max (two). and Micheal Martin TD at his conferring of the Freedom of the City ib Cork City Hall. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Speaking before the ceremony, O'Gara described the occasion as 'surreal.'

"It's a great day. Cork means everything for me and my family," he said.

"There's times when Cork people picked me up off my knees and times they brought me back down to earth too.

"There's a special bond between the supporters and the sporting people in Cork and it's something that you never forget as you travel around the world."

O'Gara said that Cork fans picked him up at the lowest point in his career.

"It was after the 2007 World Cup. We didn't do well and I was bad - very bad. There was a lot of soul searching and dark nights after I got back, I felt very low.

"My return game was some months later at Musgrave Park. It was a Magner's League game against Edinburgh and I'll never forget it.

"I came out to warm up an hour before the game and the people there gave me a huge reaction, it was incredible.

"When I was on my knees, the people of Cork picked me up and that is what I will remember for the rest of my life."

An emotional O'Gara paid tribute to his teammates and coaches over the years.

"It's great to see so many of the people I went to war with here," he said.

"We are a band of brothers and I want to emphasise that. It was a team sport and I would have gotten nowhere without my teammates. This is for everyone I played with between 2000 and 2013."

Tributes were also paid to his parents Fergal and Joan, while a special word was reserved for his wife of 11 years, Jessica.

"There isn't a woman in the world like you - so thank you," he said.

While the O'Garas aren't likely to return to Cork any time soon, he said that the support of people on Leeside means that they will come back at some point.

He said, "The support of the Munster and Ireland fans - it's only when you leave that you realise just how great it all is and that is why I want to come back again soon."

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